Snow and smoke filled the expanse above Barras as he trudged through the not-yet-cleared paths to the worksite. Another day, another expanse to excavate.
The large man flashed his card at the guard at the gate. The guard looked at his miniscreen and grunted, “You’re not needed today.”
Barras paused, an awkward smile on his mouth. “What do you mean? I have to move my ‘shovel to the next pit.”
“Not yours, pal.” The guard shrugged without looking up from his hand-held device. “Your machinery’s all busted. Some trouble in the night.”
Barras stumbled where he stood. “Someone busted up our ‘shovels?”
“Nope. Just yours. The other guys’re already working on dismantling their equipment to get it all moved to the next site. You’re not needed. Go home. You’ll get a call when we have work for you.”
The guard looked up at him for the first time. “Yeah. So I’d behave if I was you.”
“Can I go in and see Tremaine at least?”
The man wrinkled his nose. “It won’t change anything.”
“I worked number seventy-two for sixteen years.”
“So? Matthews worked here for twenty-three when he got frozen out. You been here long enough, you know: Workers are replaceable to Old Man Graston, and he’s the one in charge. Talking to the foreman ain’t gonna help you.”
Barras balled his hands into fists. This wasn’t right. Someone else busts up his ‘shovel, and he has to take the blame?
The guard noticed the motion. “Look, buddy, you want trouble, stick around. I’ll give it to you. You’ll get a few good punches in, give me a black eye, I’ll give you a broken arm, and then you’ll go home and drink the pain away until everything heals. Or you go home, have a drink, and then wait for a call. You tell me, which is better?”
Barras deflated. The guard was right. He wasn’t even the one Barras was angry at. He gave one sorry nod and turned away, trudging back through the snow.
Graston had always been a hard man. He paid fair, though. That’s why Barras had hitched to his rising star years ago.
He thought. He wasn’t good at thinking. He was good at working.
Last night that officiant had come by and said some interesting things about the heat barons. Barras didn’t want anything to do with it then.
Maybe it was time to listen to the officiant some more. Hear his dreams about a world with no heat barons. A place where a man could earn a living for his family and not fear the whims of big men.
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, Chasing Goats, here.
Read the next story, A Funeral for Seventy-Two, here.